The pandemic has brought home to us just how dependent businesses are on having a physically, mentally and emotionally healthy workforce. During its progression, we have witnessed the impact not only on employees’ physical health but also on their mental wellbeing. Therefore, it’s essential that businesses make provisions for safeguarding employees’ mental health.

With most restrictions now lifted, employers are expecting their employees to return to the workplace. However, work-from-home has created a shift in employee expectations. During this time, many employees have experienced a better work-life balance which they want to continue going forward. Consequently, most are now seeking employment with greater flexibility and more inclusivity, with the emphasis placed firmly on their wellbeing. But above all, employees want to work for an organisation that genuinely cares about them.

Having a mental health policy which defines your company’s overall approach to mental health is essential. The policy establishes the fact that your business assigns the same level of importance to mental wellbeing as it does to physical wellbeing. However, simply having a policy is not enough. It’s also vital that you promote awareness about mental health issues, create an environment where staff feel able to speak about them openly, and ensure they know how to access support. So, what can employers do to ensure their culture and policies are effectively supporting employees’ mental wellbeing?

Create a culture of openness
Make time to speak regularly with team members, think about what may be causing them stress and check that they are feeling ok. This can be done during team meetings by adding wellbeing as a fixed item on the agenda. Building mental health into an organisation’s culture in this way encourages open dialogue and helps make conversations about mental health the norm rather than something that gets brushed under the carpet.

Consider work/life balance
Regularly working long hours creates continual pressure which can lead to increased stress and exhaustion. This then affects productivity, performance and morale. Employees should work reasonable hours, take proper breaks and use their annual leave. Employers should be prepared to consider flexible working practices, including different working hours, patterns or locations. Allowing employees to work from home or to work more flexible hours will enable them to create a better work-life balance while remaining healthy and focused. Flexible working can also prevent existing mental health issues from worsening and causing sickness absence.

Remember communication is a two-way process
A large percentage of employees report feeling overwhelmed and stressed at work as a direct result of ineffective communication. When staff feel that knowledge is withheld from them, that they are excluded from conversations, unable to make their views known to management, or overloaded with information, their engagement and performance suffer. Conversely, open effective communication and responsive leadership enable staff to access the information they need to perform their role while avoiding overload.

Create opportunities for learning and development
Give staff opportunities to learn new skills whenever possible. Investing in staff development creates a positive culture in which people feel they are valued. While costs can be an issue, it’s possible to use skills and knowledge that you already have within your organisation to develop coaching, learning and job shadowing opportunities. Providing peer support, mentoring, or buddy systems can also help new staff to find their feet faster and support all staff to gain new skills.

Positive relationships
Make your workplace a mutually supportive environment where positive relationships flourish. Encourage and support teamwork and collaboration. Have a robust anti-bullying policy and ensure staff are aware of it. Encourage regular exercise and social events to boost staff health and mental wellbeing, such as a teams’ steps challenge or lunchtime walking clubs.

Astute employers understand that having healthy, motivated, and focused staff will enable their organisation to perform better. Research indicates that employees who feel valued and supported have higher levels of wellbeing, are more committed to the organisation’s goals, and perform better too. Therefore, actively supporting employees’ mental health is of paramount importance if your business is to successfully achieve its aims and objectives.